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Sakmongkol ak 47

Monday 9 February 2009

Fiddling while the Economy Burns

Who is minding our business? While we play politics, how's the health of the economy?

I was reading an interesting article about lemon socialism by Robert Reich. The term lemon originally refers to a defective car before sale. It is now used to refer to anything flawed. In economics, it has a special application. It refers to public ownership of bad enterprises, while the profitable ones are kept with the private sector. On these terms, the privatization of profitable enterprises leaving the lousy ones with the public sector, can also be described as lemon socialism.

In other words we have been suckered. We are left with deadwood business enterprises. The profitable ones are actually reserved for chosen capitalists. And in our country, the term chosen capitalists meant just that- you are the chosen ones by the government. The suffix capitalism when used on them is an insult to all hard working capitalists who actually create value. The basis of choice is very questionable. The basis of choice is almost always not one grounded on value adding potential. Most of the time, it is personal kitty adding potential.

Our government has perfected lemon socialism to an art. Over the years, the plumiest economic resources are placed in the hands of the chosen private companies while the lousy ones are left behind. Those left behind are managed by quality-challenged managers working for the government.

I was talking to a friend yesterday night about general topics regarding the managing of the economy. This friend is a Malaysian but is head of engineering with the Mercedes Benz group. He is responsible for the production facilities owned by Mercedes for the whole of Malaysia. He is normally a resident of the UK, has a house there and has children studying there. He has been re-assigned to Malaysia by Mercedes group.

It is interesting to listen to his revelations, on how European countries like Germany manages their economies.

Symbiotic relationship between the public and private sector.

Sometimes I think, the way our policy makers understand the concept of private-public sector cooperation is allowing a few non value adding government top hats sit on the board of private companies. In other words, this is rent seeking institutionalised. Survey any board of directors in private companies. You will see retired civil servants, army generals, who are past their prime and cannot possibly contribute anything other that public relations skunk work. I keep repeating the lines uttered by the fictitious Chief Zed in the Men in Black film on government employees- gentlemen thank you for your time and efforts- after years of being trained by the government, the quality of work is what we have expected from such training. In other words, any accreditation by the government stinks.

Why is the quality of our civil service low? We don't have a civil servant with the quality of the late Tan Sri Zain Azrai( a Cambridge graduate during the era of Tun Razak). We have, for want of a better term, lemons. Yet these lemons are tasked of representing the public sector, i.e. the government on the boards of private companies. We have no shame or what?

When I was an ADUN in the state of Pahang, there was a talk organised inviting the author of the book, Winds Of Change , Tan Sri Navaratnam. He gave a speech expanding the ideas contained in his book. Later , I stood and asked him- in his mind, why and when did the quality of our civil service start plummeting downwards?

I am sure he knows the answer but declined to answer for politically correct reasons. Since he did not want to answer, I gave my opinion. And I hold this perception as true.

Our civil service started to decline when the civil service becomes dominated by Malays. This decline was precipitated by several developments. First when the leadership of the civil service was monopolised by Malays and second, mediocrity reinforced, when Malays were inducted in large numbers into the civil service. Not just Malays, but lower quality Malays. In other words, there was a deliberate policy of institutionalising mediocrity. Low quality leadership reinforces itself by admitting low quality workers.

Sometimes I cant help feeling that our civil service is the employer of last resort. The brighter ones are taken in by the private sector. Or by definition the brighter and abler ones pull themselves by their boot straps to look for better jobs commensurate with their quality of mind. The less nimble are left to be absorbed into the civil service. Our civil service in effect becomes the reservoir of mediocre talents. And later, we draw from this reservoir for talents to manage our businesses, economy and sit on the boards of private companies. We actually get the governance we deserve.

More on these later.


Anonymous,  9 February 2009 at 09:18  

The state of the civil service is also reflective of the pulse of the nation and in some ways the vibrancy (or the the lack thereof) of the economy. We need to raise the bar in attracting people of calibre to fill the administrative ranks of the civil service instead of clock watchers and thumb fiddlers. I would love to see a new economic policy that emphasises quality and merit-based reward structures put in place to flush out deadwood and rejunevate the civil service. I remember how even a kerajaan 'clerk' in the 50s and 60s were respectable positions as it was not easy to "naik pangkat" unless you have the capability. Sadly, today's civil service seems to be a dumping ground for inferior graduates and failures.

Anonymous,  9 February 2009 at 09:32  

it all boils down to proper up bringing and attitude.
individual capability, strength and weakness also would play a part but just to catergorise all Malays, is not proper.
in fact, most Malays make good administrator according to the British cas. of their gentlemaness and fairness behaviour.
don't blame the Malays, blame oneself rather !
I have many Malay friends and associates,,,,and I have always value their honesty and sincereness in all my dealings with them.


Saya... 9 February 2009 at 09:47  

yeah, dato...the dick measuring goes on and on...many dicks to measure...their shower-room antics haven't left them even though dah satu kaki nak masuk kubur, nak menjawab esok how they loot, cheat and failed to carry out their amanah to the people...esp the vulnerable in the current state of the economy.

What is it with Malay men, eh?

Anonymous,  9 February 2009 at 09:53  

Another word for "chosen capitalists" is cronyism. It was
started over 20 years ago. Books have been written about it.

I think it led to money politics. The creation of an elite Malay business class ran parallel with, if not was motivated by, the idea of having proxies and nominees who would arrange the funds for getting political support. As I see it, it was a means to the perpetuation of power.

To your question of when and why the qualiity of our civil service started to plummet downwards, I am afraid the answer is when those in power started amassing fortunes in the name of proxies, nominees and trustees. Some civil servants got hints (in recent times they got more than hints, for example from "the 4th Floor Boys") on acts and omissions that would benefit the cronies. Imagine, in one instance quite some time ago, I was told, one very well connected capitalist crony rang 1-2 officials to do certain things for the benefit of his project.

And the poor civil servants,
whose excellent code of ethics bequeathed by the British MCS had slowly been adulterated during PTD time, concerned about the prospect of Datoships and performance evaluation by "The Top Three" civil servants who advise the senoir ones on being and are themselves always "politically correct", cannot but take those hints seriously into consideration.

Then came the time when many say what the heck, if they can, so can I. Even the peon, whose power may be just the witholding or despatching of approval letters, etc.

The problem is not the Malay monopoly of the civil service.
It is the environment under which they have to carry out their duties. The Officers are not likely to recommend or arrange for competitive bidding for the sale of Minister Of Finance Incorporated companies or EPU privatisation projects. As a few have privately said, "You nak mampus?".

de minimis 9 February 2009 at 11:30  

Bro Sak

I agree that the civil service is such a critical factor in the economic and general governance of Malaysia. The civil service is the delivery system for policies created by the political masters. Without the civil service no policies can be carried out. The delivery system needs to be constantly reviewed for effciency. Promudah is a dud so far.

kuldeep 9 February 2009 at 12:04  

Some of the best middle managers in the corporate sector now ,started their careers in JKR,TNB,Telekom,JPJ..great institutions with good set of systems and providing very good hands on training.Many privatised entities are run by the same "pre-privatisation" government servants.

The main grouse of most in govt service is basically there's too much politicking ,the leadership of Arts graduates KSUs who spend much more time following Ministers on their turun padang trips then to manage and the culture of mediocrity developed through the years because everyone prefers not to take risks.

We will have a more effective civil service if the politicians sets out policies only and not interfere with the execution.Its akin to the Board of Directors and the Executives arrangement.

On privatisation,we must admit that there have been quite a few real successes i.e creating real long term value in terms of productive capacity and human capital.The "deemed" failures is because the original rationale has lost the relevance now and hindsight is 20/20

Anonymous,  9 February 2009 at 12:14  


you hit the nail but it is politically not correct to even think about it.
a real disservice to the majority Malays. Wonder why the MEAN salary is below RM2,000 per month?

mekyam 9 February 2009 at 13:33  

hi tok sak,

i really like your "institutionalising mediocrity". :D

however, i wonder if it was totally a deliberate policy of the government. perhaps the gradual recruiting of only malays was. but on the whole, i think the situation is (or was) probably more of an opportunity cost due to a lack of foresight.

from what little reading i did about our country, my take would be that malaysia made a deliberate policy to churn out as many malay technocrats, and as quickly as possible, to synchronize with our then nation building direction. the direction being to become a developed nation before the turn of the century and also to allow the malays to partake of an economic pie which would consequently be enlarged to accomodate everyone.

then with our typical lack of prudence, we over-concentrated on producing (as well as over-produced to the exclusion of everything else, in my opinion) tertiary-educated graduates for business and industry. [and with our usual lack of care in execution and lack of oversight, it is highly likely that many of those grads were lemons too. but that, i suppose, is another story :D].

unlike the time of zain azrai and his peers where the civil service attracted the crème de la crème among the educated, graduates from the 70s on with their business and technical degrees, no longer regarded joining the civil service as the ultimate career choice. takde glamour and no "competitive packages" to speak of.

lagipun, bet anything most of those who came back with business degress, esp from the US and no matter how crappy and not worth the papers they were printed on their degrees were, had their heads full of such grandiose notions as "upward-mobility" and "cutting-edge practices" etc etc, which definitely wouldn't exist in the civil service and thus "onboarding" there would not be an attractive enough consideration.

i think that's probably how, as you claimed, so many "lemons" ended up in the civil service. perhaps even if they weren't lemons to begin with, they became victims of negative perception and self-fulfilling prophecy. so i'm guessing that the whole exercise of manpowering malaysia's corporate sectors in the last 3 decades caused the neglect of other parts of the nation's machinery. the civil service being one of those unfortunate parts. [another is probably the country's agriculture sector. i'm not thinking oil palms of course, but our ability to at least be self-sufficient with our own food staples.]

had malaysia been more alert at maintaining the balance of different sectors of the nation then, there might have been a deliberate policy to make the civil service dignified and as coveted as it once was. or as it still is in some countries where headhunting and grooming of promising talents happen at undergrad level, occasionally even as early as high-school/upper-secondary level.

actually, it's not too late for the government to start doing something now in order to secure a better quality civil service for the future.

Eyes Wide Open 9 February 2009 at 14:24  

erm...I'm not sure about your statement that "Our civil service started to decline when the civil service becomes dominated by Malays."

Mediocrity knows no ethnicity. There are plenty of mediocre Chinese, Indian dan lain-lain out there. But I presume we don't see them in civil service as most of them join the private sector and stay at low level jobs.

The solution would be to reinstate real meritocracy within the civil service. Promotions should be granted according to results achieved and not seniority nor connections, etc.

Salaries should be increased to match that of the private sector, with commensurate expectations of quality service.

Have a truly independent watchdog organisation to ensure that there is no conflict of interest or abuse of power.

Appoint a trustworthy and capable Minister in charge of reforming the civil service and give him the independence to act.

We already have the basic structure in place. it just needs to be fine tuned and implemented vigorously.

The BN govt could do this if they were not too busy consolidating power.

kuldeep 9 February 2009 at 15:00  

I have never been in civil service..but in my long career I have dealt with as many competent ,hardworking and principled civil servants as I have the misfortune of dealing with snobbish malcontents in private companies and MNCs;be it Malays,Chinese,Indians,Mat Sallehs...Lets not simplify it as a deficiency in the Malay psyche or education.

The marked difference is that MNCs have better processes/systems and private companies empower with less layers of bureaucracy.

And,lets be more specific and define on what is lacking with the civil service and at which level of the hierarchy?

On the technical aspect I am impressed with a lot of the JKR,Telecoms,Tenaga,JPS engineers that I have worked with before.They know their numbers and many that have gone to the private sector have led some of the major infra/building projects in the country and overseas.And of the new locally trained engineers,they may speak capchye English but they sure can do efficient designs.
So,the talent pool is definitely there.

Maybe,as you go up the ladder (the Senior Management) it gets more politicized and the focus is sometimes more to towing the master's line then for innovation,efficiency and transparency.

Revitalise the management..put in better systems and procedures..empowerment ;and the current talent pool will develop into an efficient delivery network.

Anonymous,  9 February 2009 at 15:34  

Dear Dato',

I'm impressed by your frankness and courage in speaking out on this touch subject.

Unfortunately, many other Malays (especially those in the ruling regime) have taken on the "Emperor's New Clothes" syndrome. And they are the ones who couldn't even write a decent sentence in English, unlike you (of the old school), because they still harp on BM on grounds of nationalism, when the world has gone on the globalization route.

Yes, we like to kid ourselves, like spending so much money to send a man to space and then patting ourselves on the back saying, "We have an astronaut!" Those money could now be put to better use in helping our economy to survive.

I wish there are more Malays like you.

Anonymous,  9 February 2009 at 15:35  

Economy burns...

Good if we have an economy.

Our economy is to take the money available anytime anywere and just give it out like Santa Claus.

Just look how the new "MB" of Perak gave out money to musical bands and others hardly a few days of being appointed.

Ya, how did he know how much money the state has or from where this "free" money comes from?
It amazes oneself really the way Malaysian handle their economy.

This kind of behavious seems to be right from the National levels too.

Money in most countries are well planned and alloted . Here what you see? 600 million for thier contractors all over the country .. without even knowing how money is to be used.

Go ahead run the economy like that .... God bless you if there is any money left after the real Tzunami comes... almost every country are so badly affected. Even read Ukraine 45% of their workers gone out of work etc... and here we have Santa Claus going round giving "free" money"

Just do they really know how to run a country?

Anonymous,  9 February 2009 at 15:47  

A song to fiddle to:

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
Kenapa Nuar lompat lambat,
Senjata dah makan diri

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
Bila tewas bisng kiamat
Lupa dia yang memulai

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
Nak jadi parti dihormat,
Tadbir tiada otak, tembak kaki

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
999 tanah lama sangat
Macam hidung ditarik babi

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
Poket Nger dan Nga sendat,
Nizar boneka nangis sendiri.

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
Bila ditegur angkuh sangat
Nizar tak ambik peduli

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
Nizar kena terima hakikat,
Bila tak ada majoriti

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
Apalah PAS bising sangat
Di Perak cuma 7 kerusi

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
ADUN memang pilihan rakyat
Jawatan MB Sultan beri

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
Sultan Azlan amat cekap
Helah Nizar tak sidang lagi

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
Kenan Sultan tak dapat,
Lupa kata serah pada duli

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
Jangan derhaka tak bertempat
Akhirnya akan makan diri

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
Jangan mintak Pilihanraya Cepat,
PR derhaka, rakyat tak bagi

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
Parti Islam jangan sesat
Tak baik fitnah, benci, maki

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
Sabar dan ajak taubat
Kalau bijak, berpeluang lagi

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
Kalau nak kuasa sangat ,
Islam Melayu jangan diketepi

Lompat Sikatak Lompat,
Lompat lah tinggi tinggi,
Kalau nak selamat,
Jangan dibohong Anwar lagi

Anonymous,  9 February 2009 at 16:04  

Mengapa bimbang? Ekonomi okay lah.

Don't underestimate our Finance Minister. He has hidden card up his sleeve and will reveal his plan on saving the country's economy once he becomes PM. He has thought out a new product to export.

Ok, ok, I shall let you into the secret.

You've heard of Filipino maids? Indonesian maids? Well, sekarang kami akan expot Malaysia maids. Mereka akan bring in hard-earned (you bet) foreign currency to help boost our economy lah.

The day will come. Just be prepared to see our daughters and grand-daughters go out to work as maids.

Anonymous,  9 February 2009 at 16:38  

To Bangau -
Sorry to voice this, people:
Friend,I don't know where the relevance of this pantun, or whatever it's called to this post. As far as I understand this post, it concerns the economy, mainly. The previous post IS about Anwar. Why not send there?

Yes, I understand Malay very well - Despite the "fiddle" at the beginning, it's just to "ambil syarat". So what's my problem? It's in using this as a dumping ground. I RSS the posts and comments, and this type of nonsense is a real irritant.

I hope Dato' Sakmongkol to consider deleting this kind of comment which has no relevance. No, I don't think it's harsh to do so when people take advantage of this blog to spread THEIR message. GO START A BLOG OF YOUR OWN: WWW.BLOGGER.COM

Thank you.

Anonymous,  9 February 2009 at 20:36  

Salam Tok Sak,
Right on!! Bitter BUT true!! Q is, what do we do about it? How to break this viscious cycle? Definitely NOT by more politicking by the Malays?

Anonymous,  9 February 2009 at 21:02  

if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys to work for you-lah.
am not in full support to Singapore, but there they get the best in the civil service cas. they get paid pretty well, if not over paid if I must comment.
Well, I have had 10 yrs experience working with the govt. agency and later left to join the private sector.
Indeed, I had gained valueble exposure plus proper admin. protocols from being in the govt. which actually was needed in my career in the private sector.
Am most thankful to the govt. for this and forever be greatful too.
Don't just blame anyone in general please, we have to be specific and detail with facts and data to make any statement about anyone, does not matter race, colour or religion. Lets be fair and professional in our deliberations or blogging comments too.
If you think that you can do it better, so be it and just do it rather than just blaming the World about it. This is the biggest issue here,,,just talking and blaming in general,,,,it only makes things worst and a bloody waste of time for everyone !


Ariff Sabri 9 February 2009 at 21:43  

if u think this is a waste of time, cant help you there. dont pull ranks here. i have worked with Shell Malaysia for over a decade. and worked with govt for years/every year looking at how they manage their affairs. so like you, i too know what i am talking about.
why should you get paid higher starting salaries when the entry level qualifications are nothing to shout about? in yr case, your are lucky to get into the private sector- which you could not have done initially. so you had to augment what you lacked by years in govt service.
from my experience, those who came belatedly into the private sector from govt service hardly made impacts in value adding.
so dont lecture us of the civil service. from my own experience dealing with govt depts- many times i feel like captain kirk- Scotty beam me up, no sign of intelligent life down here.

kuldeep 9 February 2009 at 22:34  

Our SIRIM is by far more competent technically ,efficient and respected than SISIR cos Tan Sri Tajuddin brought them notches ahead with his enlightened and committed leadership.He was working his magic in Tenaga before politics swept in and flushed him into early retirement.

Nobody in SIRIM or Tenaga was getting huge pay packets or KPI fueled bonuses back then.And TS was not recruiting the top brains but was nurturing home grown talents to reach their potential.

I was dealing with SIRIM back then and I saw the the energy and drive those guys had.Truly a transformation without more monetary rewards justified by consultant's hogwash KPIs.

And I am sure many would have good things to say about some other govt agencies/depts too.

Get able hands on leaders who knows their stuff ...empower them..and less political interference...and you will see the change.


Anonymous,  9 February 2009 at 23:00  

Once again, very nice, sir.
Actually the rot started with TDM.

The nation has lost more than RM 330 billions due to leakages that TDM initiated and now he is suffering in silence.

I do not think it is something to do with race.
In my former company, a GLC, it very hard for anybody to go against the system because of the crony or clan culture.
Regardless of race, majority seems to have a "tidak apa attitude".

Anonymous,  9 February 2009 at 23:11  

"The main grouse of most in govt service is basically there's too much politicking ,the leadership of Arts graduates KSUs who spend much more time following Ministers on their turun padang trips then to manage and the culture of mediocrity developed through the years because everyone prefers not to take risks."

Bulls eye, Kuldeep !!

These kaki bodek and tidak apa syndrome will lead to a negative cycle of self destruction.

Ariff Sabri 9 February 2009 at 23:34  

ok, let some good sense prevail. i havent said the second part yet.
the answer i gave to navaratnam was meant to challenge the mindset of many dept heads.
the answer it seems to me, is we must have leadership at at levels and the leader demands from his fellow workers the highest of standards, diligence and dedication.
there must be a culture of competitiveness among civil servants.
the many examples of isolated excellence were just that- an exception to the rule. as a rule, it is mediocrity perpetuated as one commentator says hikayat reading KSU's.
i also believe we must start from the beginning- demand the best into each level. if a particular level require SPM graduates- take in the best SPM holders.

Anonymous,  10 February 2009 at 08:08  

There is no bad soldiers only bad officers !. this is my/our principle when i was in the Armed Forces then. And for bloody 10 years of my/our service life, we served for king n country day n night, blood sweat n tears !!!. In fact, many of us paid very dearly with their life.
Similarly, its expected with the civil services, indeed as you eventually/rightfully identified 'leadership' as the prime factor,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
"we must have leadership at at levels and the leader demands from his fellow workers the highest of standards, diligence and dedication."
Now, we/you are talking, being very specific about the subject issue and finding root cause for follow up action !.
Its these kind of findings plus write-up that will make 'change' to happen-lah. Rather than all Malays are sub-standard etc etc ,,,,,which pains my ear to no end. You don't activate anything positive via such negative perception which you admited as true !. There is nothing to explain about truth, it will explain itself. The truth is that you can really write,,,,, but your method or wording meant to challenge the mindset of many dept heads is kind of out of the box, so to say. Perhaps need some softening in wordings cas. pardon me, you can sound too arrogent or demeaning too ?. Fight Fire with fire or with water ?. Well, end of the day, its the deliverables that counts,,,,talk talk and talk like a typical Malay politician, banyak asap and abok aja nanti. Apa guna-nya ?. ,,,,but I still kind of like your style too, to think about it in more detail !!!!!.hehehe
Boleh kah tukar fikiran orang melayu ?. Orang melayu boleh berfikir kah ?.
Ada otak tak untuk berfikir !!!
now, now, now,,,,take it easy man.

Anonymous,  11 February 2009 at 05:40  


Maybe you are pleasing yourself too much here.

You forget to observe your good friend who opted to work for Mercedez after what Malaysia had done for him.

Malaysia has given them the oppurtunities. Malaysia has trained them well. Taken them out of poverty and taken them out of farms and old huts. Just like what Malaysia has given you. But most the Malays forgets. Like what Tun Dr M always say, they forgets. The went for the greener pasture elsewhere. So, its Malaysia's fault now that they choose to make other a better place than Malaysia?

Have you been outside of the country, Dato'? Besides KL and Pahang?

Malaysian Malay workers, man and women, are well sought after especially in the Arab worlds.

Lemon? I think you are it. An old lemon.

Anonymous,  11 February 2009 at 06:00  

Dear Dato,

So you were with the government before? Then you were one of the 'trees' which bear the 'lemons' in the civil service we have today.

You are a failure even at the Jabatan Kerajaan level.

Please dont point fingers, Dato. Be honest to yourself. You will find that the more you point fingers at others the more you will get humbled.

Ariff Sabri 11 February 2009 at 13:00  

excuse me,
when i say i was with the govt, i didnt say i worked with a govt. i served as adun and got to know the workings and work ethics of govt depts.

as for the men and women who are much sought after, had they worked for the gvt, how do you think will they performed?
you want to argue abt gvt work ethics, anytime anywhere.

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